How Not to Run a Business

 Here’s an update to this post! 

Finding a good gym is hard to find.

Where I live (Valley Ranch, Texas), it used to never be hard to find. The Ranch Health Club has, for years, been the only gym in town. And it wasn’t just any gym. It backs up to the Cowboys practice facility. It attracted celebrity members, such as the Cowboys Cheerleaders. It was a popular place for all the meatheads, but the aerobics girls, too. It had lots of really good trainers, and good classes. And, they treated you right.

Put simply, going to The Ranch made you feel like you were in on a little secret. A special club. They had something going no one else did, but you couldn’t exactly place it. You just knew it felt good to be there.

In just the past 6 months, a 24-hour Fitness and an LA Fitness have opened up in the neighborhood. These gyms are popular, but they’re often too crowded, and they have never seemed personal to me. Lots of people at the Ranch were worried what would happen to it, but I wasn’t. I knew if they just did a little bit more of what they already did, they’d attract the right crowd.

I was wrong.

Seems as though ownership of the Ranch changed since these new gyms appeared, and it hasn’t helped. Instead of ramping up the customer service, the cleanliness, the expertise, they’ve decided to wave the white flag. Here are just a few of the things I’ve experienced consistently this year alone, all signs of giving up:

  • Instead of fit mid-20’s to mid-30’s people working the counter, they’ve got high school and college kids doing the bare minimum for their minimum wage. Last night one of them was working on card tricks at the desk between checking people in.
  • They never fill up the paper towes in the bathroom. I thought it was just a men’s locker room thing, but my wife tells me it’s the same in the women’s.
  • The stereo, just last night alone, played Barry Manilow, “DreamWeaver,” and The Pointer Sisters. I actually heard someone say what we were all thinking – what kind of music is this for a gym?
  • There are at least 50% less top-notch trainers there.
  • In the lounge area near the locker rooms are the magazine “Aviator Week” and “Deliver” by the US postal service. What is that for a gym?
  • Nothing is updated – signs of promotions long past are still flying high.
  • There are at least 60% less people. On a Monday afternoon after work, the place was spacious – that should never happen.
  • Their website is pretty much broken.
  • Most of all, there is no one on staff there that seems to care. They’re clocking in, and clocking out.

Are people leaving the Ranch and trying out the new kids in town? Of course – that’s natural. But I guarantee you that at least 30% of those people would pay extra to come back to the Ranch for the experience that drew them there in the first place. Instead, the new owners are giving those folks more reasons to not come back.

As for me, I’m staying at the Ranch. Partly out of curiosity (rumor has it the owners just aren’t in town yet to do anything about it). Partly because I despise 24-hour Fitness. Partly because I still enjoy what redeeming qualities the club has left. But if something doesn’t change by October, it will be out of business, or sold.

The lesson here? There are too many to count. Maybe the best one is that, if you’re in a market where lifestyle is as much the attraction as your service or product, then protecting how you fuel that lifestyle and impress those who want that lifestyle is the most important thing you can do. And when the competition comes to town, accentuate it even more.


18 responses to “How Not to Run a Business

  1. The contrast is “Curves for Women.” I was told not to tell, but who is really going to read Slam’s blog anyway 😉 Beth just started going to Curves, do you know about these places? You make an appointment to go in. They take all your measurments and then they give you, based on how you answer questions and the tests, your goals. They then talk with you how to meet those goals. There is a large circle of equipment stations and everyone is on the rotation. They ask you to commit to come in 3 times per week and go through the rotation 2 times each time you come in (30 min. total). They also talk about healthy food choices, etc… There is up-beat fun music going all the time, and everyone is cycling through the rotation. You work all the appropreate areas of your body, you don’t even have to think about it, and you don’t waste any time. It’s also women only. For less than $40 initial fee and then less than $40 per month (NO CONTRACT), women get a high level of service, individual attention within a group setting, and have a fun and motivating environment where they actually can win monthly prizes by meeting their goals. All I can say is that there will be fewer and fewer women in the mega-gym fitness centers (which means fewer men will go there too). There will be a drop in the price of large buildings that are currently gyms that will be going out of business. If I had the time, I’d start the same company but call it “Ripped” for men only, and I’d make the equipment slightly more weight intensive, etc… Though women are attracted to the “one sex” aspect more than men, my wife would be more apt to let me go if no women were there 😉 Just my thoughts…

  2. Harris – excellent example. Curves has been getting quite a reputation over the past few years for offering great, targeted service. I actually think at one time they were considered one of the top 5 franchises in the nation.

    If you start a Ripped, I’m there. To model, of course.

  3. Would love the opportunity to shift your thought process on 24 Hour Fitness. I am in charge of the organization in Texas and it appears as though we did something that did not sit right with you. Let me make it Right. Email me if you wish!

  4. Adam – I really appreciate your response. Thanks for the offer – I’m good right now, but if there’s no Ranch in a few months, I might have to come knocking.

    My issue with 24 hour is mostly how crowded it can get – stresses me out. I did used to really enjoy the racquetball at the Carrollton branch, but the Valley Ranch one doesn’t have that.

  5. Pingback: 10 Marketing Tips for Gym Owners « Brett’s Blog

  6. I have heard that Curves has been as high as the second highest franchise in the US. They are all about offering a better value proposition, and in turn creating and dominating a niche in an otherwise competitive, yet lucrative, market.

  7. Chad – I’ve heard that, too, although I think I heard it about 5 years ago. Not lately. I’m wondering if they’re as strong today as they were then.

  8. I totally agree regarding the Ranch I too was there in its heyday… it is nothing today like it was then. All the trainers have left and theres no energy in there anymore. As you mention, Mondays used to be so packed that you were lucky if you found a parking spot anywhere there. So sad… I miss how it used to be…


    I’m new to this blog so please hear me out…

    My name is Ron, I am currently in the process of taking over the Fitness Director position at The Ranch. I am terribly sorry about everything that has happened to you, I know and understand what it is like to lose a gym that you loved to be at. PLEASE, if you will email me and I will contact you back and personally do everything I can to make your experience at The Ranch everything it should and used to be!!

    I’m entering this gym with an uneasy feeling, but I have the confidence that with a little TLC, I can bring this gym back to LIFE!

    My email is Please dont be afraid to email me. Thank You so much, I look forward to hearing from all of you!

  10. Hi everyone,

    Just wanted to introduce myself. This seems like a nice place and I look forward to hanging out here 🙂


  11. Way to go Ron.

  12. This is the most interesting thing I have ever seen. It gets so much traffic I don’t know how you keep it online!

  13. Brett,
    I’ve been a member at The Ranch since before it opened; there was just an enrollment trailer in the parking lot in front of the building which used to be a Food Lion. Over the years I came to know many of the excellent trainers and class instructors, who were the greatest assets the club had, and a key differentiator vis a vis the mega gyms. Bottom line, when the new ownership took over, they cut all the trainers’ pay in half. So instead of capitalizing on their core strength, they surrendered as you suggested. Really sad. On the other hand, the new management made much needed investments in the facilities; perhaps too late.

  14. If only gas was still 99 cents a gallon, the Ranch would be the way it used to be. Doug, c’est la vie, vis a vis, Cool Mo D. Why don’t you go to where the trainers run wild on the hillsides and stay there.

  15. Doug –

    I see where you’re coming from. I have noticed a lot more trainers up at the Ranch lately, and the crowd is definitely picking up. After all the crap we’ve had to deal with, things are looking OK.

    Willie – you got a point, too. But where do the trainers run wild on open plains?

  16. The Ranch went down hill when I left Body Connection to open my chiropractic clinic! Just kidding… its so sad to hear that the Ranch s not what t used to be; however, if you’re not growing you’re dieing. Good luck Ron.

  17. Larry. You had to have been the spelling bee champoin in school.What excatly are you “dieing”, probably your hair. By the way did you notice Ron posted that a year ago. That goofball is long gone.

  18. This design is spectacular! You definitely know how to keep a reader entertained.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to
    start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job.

    I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented
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